Usability II: Testing for Responsive Design

A quick look at any given set of web analytics will show that mobile is quickly becoming a dominant force and a favorite platform among visitors. Many websites that have not been optimized for a mobile browsers may soon find that visitors are unable to find the information they need or are not receiving the experience they are expecting resulting in lost conversions and disappointed customers. While many solutions exist including entirely mobile sites, and stand-alone applications, a unique solution that has been enabled by new technology like HTML5 and CSS3 is responsive design.

Responsive design is a type of reductive design where a web layout is automatically reconstructed to fit a wide range of screen resolutions by responding to the device’s available viewing area. This type of design can accommodate a variety of devices and remains adaptive as new devices enter the marketplace. In order to execute an effective responsive design an examination of the site’s information architecture is crucial. Only the most important elements of the navigation should be presented to the visitor, and a significant reduction in the amount of content must be executed to accommodate the smaller screens and shorter attention spans that come with mobile devices. Knowing what to incorporate in a responsive design, and especially knowing what users are expecting, requires testing.

While testing a mobile device may seem difficult, many of the elements in a mobile usability test are the same in a traditional usability test. The main hurdle is how to observe the participant interacting with the device, especially when the majority of those interactions are gestures including taping, swiping, and scrubbing. One application that enables the recording of gestures (in addition to video and audio) is UX Recorder a usability testing application for iOS devices. For face-to-face sessions, a mobile testing sled can be used. While there are pre-fabricated options like the MOD 1000, plenty of DIY mobile usability solutions are also available for review and modification. Depending on the goals of the project, a DIY solution may even prove itself to be a better option. Executing a well-designed test and observing participant behavior, either remotely or in person, will provide great insight for designers when crafting a responsive design ensuring that all visitor needs and expectations are met. An effective responsive design can prove to be both a cost-effective and adaptive solution for meeting the needs of mobile visitors.

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